Nasa announces space shuttle replacement shortlist 3 August 2012Last updated at 12:07 ET By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News A Dragon made an unmanned flight to the space station in May We now have a much clearer idea of how American astronauts will get into orbit in the coming years. Nasa has selected three companies to help develop launch systems that can take people to the space station. They include the SpaceX firm, which recently sent an unmanned cargo capsule to the 400km-high outpost. But agreements have also been signed with aerospace giant Boeing and the Sierra Nevada Corporation. The agency has been working with a number of partners in recent years to find spaceflight capabilities that could replace its own shuttle fleet, which retired last year. Friday's announcement represented a reduction to concepts Nasa now thinks are best placed to deliver it a space transportation solution in the near-term. The agency's intention is to eventually outsource its crew launch requirements to the private sector. Refining designs
Planet with four suns discovered 15 October 2012Last updated at 11:33 ET By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website The new planet - a gas giant - is about six times the size of Earth Astronomers have found a planet whose skies are illuminated by four different suns - the first known of its type. The distant world orbits one pair of stars which have a second stellar pair revolving around them. The discovery was made by volunteers using the Planethunters.org website along with a team from UK and US institutes; follow-up observations were made with the Keck Observatory. A report on the Arxiv server has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal. Continue reading the main story “Start Quote Computerised attempts to find things [in the data] missed this system entirely. End QuoteDr Chris LintottOxford University The planet, located just under 5,000 light-years away, has been named PH1 after the Planet Hunters site. It is thought to be a "gas giant" slightly larger than Neptune - more than six times the radius of the Earth.
Skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks sound barrier 14 October 2012Last updated at 18:17 ET By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent Highlights from Felix Baumgartner's leap into the record books Austrian Felix Baumgartner has become the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9mph (1,342km/h). In jumping out of a balloon 128,100ft (24 miles; 39km) above New Mexico, the 43-year-old also smashed the record for the highest ever freefall. He said he almost aborted the dive because his helmet visor fogged up. Footage from a camera on Baumgartner's chest shows out-of-control spin It took just under 10 minutes for him to descend. Once down, he fell to his knees and raised his fists in triumph. "Let me tell you - when I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble. None of the new marks set by Baumgartner can be classed as "official" until endorsed by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). Continue reading the main story The jump in numbers Suit made of layered material
Helix Nebula General information Currently, the age is estimated to be 10,600+2,300 −1,200 years, based solely upon a measured expansion rate of 31 km·s−1. Structure The Helix Nebula is thought to be shaped like a prolate spheroid with strong density concentrations toward the filled disk along the equatorial plane, whose major axis is inclined about 21° to 37° from our vantage point. Expansion of the whole planetary nebula structure is estimated to have occurred in the last 6,560 years, and 12,100 years for the inner disk. Knots Closer view of knots in Helix The Helix Nebula was the first planetary nebula discovered to contain cometary knots. Its main ring contains knots of nebulosity, which have now been detected in many nearby planetaries. Visuals Helix Nebula by 2.2-metre Max-Planck Society/ESO telescope at the La Silla observatory in Chile Videos See also New General Catalogue (NGC) Notes  Citations External links Coordinates:
3D printed moon building designs revealed 1 February 2013Last updated at 12:21 GMT The protective shell of the building is designed to be constructed on site by 3D printers Architects Fosters and Partners have revealed designs for a building on the Moon that could be constructed from material already on its surface. An inflatable structure would be transported from Earth, then covered with a shell built by 3D printers. The printers, operated by robots, would use soil from the Moon, known as regolith, to build the layered cover. The proposed site for the building is the southern pole of the Moon. It is designed to house four people and could be extended, the firm said. In 2010 a team of researchers from Washington State University found that artificial regolith containing silicon, aluminium, calcium, iron and magnesium oxide could be used by 3D printers to create solid objects. The latest plans are the result of a collaboration between a number of organisations including the European Space Agency. 'Fascinating and unique'
First glimpse of a black hole's spin Astronomers have measured the rate of spin of a supermassive black hole for the first time - and it is big. Measurements undertaken with two space-based X-ray telescopes imaged the black hole at the centre of galaxy NGC 1365. The spin measurement, published in Nature, gives precious clues as to how the black hole grew and achieved supermassive status. That growth influences the evolution of galaxies, so this simple number stands to teach scientists a great deal. Black holes are notoriously difficult to study, since so much in astronomy depends on the detection of light - and within a certain distance from a black hole, even that cannot escape. Black holes are known to draw in material - gas and even stars - and to stretch the very fabric of space-time at their edges. Previous attempts to quantify black holes' spins have attempted to analyse these X-rays - accounting for the violent processes within that can stretch and distort the X-rays' energies.
Planck satellite: Maps detail Universe's ancient light By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News, Paris A spectacular new map of the "oldest light" in the sky has just been released by the European Space Agency. Scientists say its mottled pattern is an exquisite confirmation of our Big-Bang model for the origin and evolution of the Universe. But there are features in the picture, they add, that are unexpected and will require ideas to be refined. The map was assembled from 15 months' worth of data acquired by the 600m-euro (£515m) Planck space telescope. It details what is known as the cosmic microwave background, or CMB - a faint glow of long wavelength radiation that pervades all of space. Its precise configuration, visible in the new Planck data, is suggestive of a cosmos that is slightly older than previously thought - one that came into existence 13.82 billion years ago. This is an increase of about 50 million years on earlier calculations. Planck is the third western satellite to study the CMB. Continue reading the main story
Science & Environment - Nasa Ladee mission: Solving a Moon mystery Nasa's Ladee mission is part of a resurgence of interest in the Moon and it is all down to the fact that we barely understand our cosmic neighbour. You would be forgiven for thinking that America lost interest in the Moon forty years ago, in December 1972, when Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan left the final footprint on its dusty surface. It’s certainly true that in the 1970s and 80s there was little desire to return to our grey, cratered cosmic neighbour. In fact during the 1980s no-one sent a single spacecraft, robot or orbiter. Thanks to Apollo, American scientists had an enormous pile of lunar rocks to study, Nasa’s attention had switched to the Space Shuttle and the Soviets had run out of money. But in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in studying the Moon in order to tackle some of the many unanswered scientific questions. ‘Dead world’ Observations made through telescopes on Earth have already given the Ladee science team some idea of what they might find.
Science & Environment - Driving Mars Rovers: ‘It can get a little boring’ Nasa driver who has clocked up most miles on the Red Planet reveals what it’s really like to be behind the wheel of a space rover. I met a man employed on Mars. Not just watching it from a distance, but doing things on its surface. Paolo Bellutta is his name and he drives Nasa’s Curiosity and Opportunity Rovers – the only working cars in space. As he proudly tells me, “I’m one of the few people who has an interplanetary driver’s licence.” For further clarification he’s also wearing a bright red jacket with “Mars Rover Driver” emblazoned across the back. Let me back up a bit. He’s a leading figure in both the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission – which landed Spirit and Opportunity in 2004 – and in the most recent Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which last year used a fiendishly complicated and previously untried “sky crane” to lower the nearly one tonne nuclear-powered, family-car-sized Curiosity almost exactly on target in the Gale Crater, a site he’d helped select.
Burn notice: NASA discovers that fireproof materials ignite in space Still frames showing a piece of cotton-fiberglass, similar to the cotton civilian clothing worn by astronauts, burning from bottom-to-top during a space station experiment (Credit: Paul Ferkul/NASA/BASS). High above the Earth, astronauts aboard the International Space Station are playing with fire — very carefully. By lighting controlled fires and watching them burn, the Expedition 35 team is learning how to prevent accidental blazes from breaking out aboard the station and other spacecraft — a nightmare scenario that could put not only lives, but the very future of human spaceflight at risk. "We can certainly make things not flammable on Earth, but in space, that changes," said Dr. Paul Ferkul, a NASA scientist whose experiment recently found that a fire-resistant fabric similar to astronaut clothing actually ignites in space. "in space, [fireproofing] changes." "more dangerous or less dangerous in space?" "This type of situation could occur."
met Lovejoy flies into Sun to reveal solar secrets 6 June 2013 Last updated at 21:14 ET By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC World Service Lead researcher Cooper Downs explains how the comet and its "wiggly tail" gave clues about the Sun's violent atmosphere. Footage and interview: Science Magazine A comet's close encounter with the Sun has given scientists a look at a solar region that has never been visited by spacecraft. In 2011, comet Lovejoy hurtled deep into the Sun's violent atmosphere - an area called the solar corona. Telescope images have revealed how the comet's tail was pulled about by an intense magnetic field, allowing scientists to characterise this force for the first time. The study is published in Science. Dr Karel Schrijver, from the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in California, said: "The comet goes through an area of the solar atmosphere that we can't really observe. "We can't go there because our satellites would melt, and we can't see it because there is not much light coming from it. Dancing tail
Nasa’s Cassini probe to acquire distant Earth portrait 19 June 2013Last updated at 04:08 GMT By Jonathan Amos Science correspondent, BBC News This favourite 2006 image of Saturn includes Earth as a speck just inside the G-ring at upper-left. In the coming picture, Earth will be lower-right. Dr Porco hopes it will look even better Nasa's Cassini probe is going to try to take a special picture of Planet Earth. The spacecraft will include our home world when it makes a giant mosaic of Saturn and its ring system. In the Friday 19 July portrait, Earth will be almost a billion miles in the distance - a mere pixel in size. Carolyn Porco, who leads Cassini's camera team, hopes the picture will be reminiscent of the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image captured by the Voyager-1 probe in 1990. That was an image she helped produce. "People can celebrate it and join in. "People can enjoy the fact that we have a robot out there, a billion miles away, taking our picture. This simulation shows the face Earth will present to Cassini
Glass rain may give planet blue hue 11 July 2013Last updated at 11:23 ET The turbulent alien world - seen in this artist's impression - lies some 63 light-years from Earth For the first time, astronomers have determined the true colour of a planet orbiting another star. The world, known as HD189733b, has a deep azure hue - probably the result of silicate (glass) rain in the atmosphere, which scatters blue light. Details of the discovery, made with the Hubble Space Telescope, are to appear in Astrophysical Journal Letters. Although it might resemble Earth from a distance, HD189733b is a huge gas giant which orbits close to its host star. The temperature of the planet's atmosphere is a scorching 1,000C, and it rains glass, sideways, in howling 7,000km-per-hour winds. Its atmosphere has been found to be dramatically changeable and exotic, with hazes and violent bursts of evaporation. It has been extensively studied by ground- and space-based telescopes. HD 189733b is faint and close to its sun.